FBI says ex-Apple engineer stole autonomous car tech

Doris Richards
July 12, 2018

According to the complaint, Zhang was shown a "proprietary chip" by employees and was working on circuit boards that could have been part of a sensor fusion project, which involves using multiple sensors to make the cars more accurate in their decisions while in self-driving mode. While he was arrested before boarding a plane, the story has no mention of whether the reams of data stolen by Mr. Zhang were sent via the internet.

Zhang was promptly arrested at the airport after the Federal Bureau of Investigation was notified that he purchased a ticket to leave the country.

In April, Zhang took paternity leave following the birth of a child and travelled with his family to China, according to the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. He was subsequently fired, she said.

The U.S. Treasury Department plans to heighten scrutiny of Chinese investments in sensitive U.S. industries under an emergency law.

But Apple may have large numbers of employees working on the project because the process of making a computer "see" the world around it for a self-driving auto can be applied to other products, said Sertac Karaman, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of a self-driving shuttle startup called Optimus Ride.

Zhang was also caught on surveillance video entering the software and hardware labs of the autonomous vehicle department and leaving with a large box. Zhang's access to his work at XMotors was denied and his computer and other equipment were secured after United States authorities notified the company they were investigating him; he was ultimately fired. The self-driving space is exceptionally competitive, with dozens of companies across the world trying to take the lead in the burgeoning field. Apple hasn't said how or if it will eventually release its technology to consumers. 5,000 employees reportedly had access to the information that Zhang stole, with 2,700 of those listed as "core employees".

According to the supervisor, Zhang had "been evasive" during the meeting between the two, and, as such, chose to contact Apple's New Product Security Team, which launched an internal investigation.

"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously", Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told Bloomberg.

Apple's Project Titan has been shrouded in mystery during the years it has been running.

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".

Apple told the FBI about the data taken by Zhang, and in a June 27 interview with federal investigators, the former employee admitted to everything that he had told Apple.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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