Former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang has been arrested by US authorities while attempting to board a flight bound for China. Zhang stands accused of stealing blueprints from Apple’s top secret autonomous car project and attempting to flee the country.
Suspicions were raised about Zhang’s behaviour after he visited China while supposedly on paternity leave. He informed Apple that he would be leaving the company for China-based Xiaopeng Motors. His supervisor later noted that there was an increase work related behaviour while he was supposedly still on leave, and called Apple security.
Apple claims that Zhang had taken a server and several circuit boards from his former workplace; and had also downloaded a 25-page blueprint to a board for an autonomous cars.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the incident has reveal just how extensive the driverless car project once was at Apple. Some 5,000 of its 135,000 employees had some level of access to the project; although only 2,700 had Zhang’s level of access to secret databases.
Apple has dramatically scaled back its autonomous car project from the early days. While it was reported that the original intention would be to build an entire car, the company has since moved on to partnering with major automotive companies instead.