Apple
Apple

A former Apple employee has been accused of stealing the company’s self-driving car secrets and trying to flee to China with them.

Xiaolang Zhang worked on Apple’s driverless car project but allegedly planned to move to Chinese autonomous vehicle start-up Xiaopeng Motors, the company says in court documents.

He was arrested at San Jose airport, California, on 7 July.

The FBI has charged him with stealing trade secrets, reports BBC.

According to the court documents, Zhang was hired in 2015 to develop software and hardware for Apple’s autonomous vehicle project.

However, after visiting China in April 2018 he told his supervisor he planned to move to the country to work for Xiaopeng Motors.

The supervisor informed Apple’s security team, which found that Zhang had downloaded “copious pages of information” from secret databases and had taken hardware from its autonomous vehicle lab, the court documents allege.

The FBI said the data taken included “engineering schematics, technical reference manuals, and technical reports”.

Zhang is accused of downloading a 25-page “blueprint” for a self-driving car circuit board to his personal computer.

About 2,700 “core employees” have access to the technical databases Zhang is accused of accessing.

He is also accused of taking circuit boards and a computer server from Apple’s self-driving vehicle hardware lab.

According to the court documents, Zhang admitted to stealing the information during an interview in June.

He also admitted using AirDrop to send sensitive content from his own device to his wife’s Macbook, they allege.

He could be fined $250,000 (£189,000) or jailed for 10 years, if found guilty.

In a statement, Apple said: “We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”