Former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang has been sentenced to 120 days in prison followed by a three-year supervised release for stealing information about Apple’s self-driving vehicle development. Initially arrested in 2018 as he attempted to board a flight to China, Zhang pleaded guilty in 2022 to stealing trade secrets. Alongside the prison sentence, Zhang must pay restitution amounting to $146,984, as per court documents.
Zhang, who worked as a hardware engineer for Apple’s autonomous vehicle project, Project Titan, transferred sensitive documents to his wife’s laptop via AirDrop and took circuit boards and a Linux server from Apple’s labs. His resignation following a paternity leave and a trip to China raised suspicions at Apple, leading to an investigation that uncovered his theft through CCTV footage. Zhang is set to surrender himself by June 19 and will be placed in a minimum-security facility near his San Jose home.
Apple’s self-driving car project, ongoing for a decade under the codename Project Titan, has faced setbacks. Zhang’s theft of vital information adds to the challenges the tech giant has faced in developing its autonomous vehicle technology. Despite earlier plans, recent reports suggest Apple is pivoting towards developing electric vehicles (EVs) similar to Tesla’s, with the launch of the anticipated Apple Car now projected for no earlier than 2028, signaling a significant shift in the company’s automotive strategy.