Articles, Sensor Fusion, Smart Mobility, Vehicle Automation

Breaking down Apple‘s Trade Secret Theft

Apple just got undesired attention due to a theft.

At the beginning of July, Xiaolang Zhang, former Apple hardware engineer, was arrested at San José airport in California. He was part of Apple’s team working on a self-driving car and is accused of stealing confidential data and bringing it to China. It’s not the first time a case has been brought for the theft of trade secrets about autonomous driving projects. Apparently there is strong development pressure in the field - and the competitors do what they can to take the lead.

The Case Xiaolang Zhang

Xiaolang Zhang was employed in Apple‘s development department. Apparently he was working on a circuit board for sensor fusion, probably in the field of autonomous driving. He recently came back from a vacation and quitted his job. During his vacation, he evidently accessed relevant data and downloaded it. The prosecution accuses him of trying to get out of the country with these trade secrets. In the meantime, Zhang has declared himself innocent. He stated that he didn’t want to escape to China. The company he was suspected to work for there, Xiaopeng Motors, denied any connection with the suspected theft.

Zhang’s in good Company

The case of Anthony Levandowski, former co-founder and technical lead of Waymo, was similar - he stole secret data for the development of a lidar and overran to transport service provider Uber. A lawsuit followed in which Uber had to pay Waymo $245 million in compensation. In the meantime Levandowski has apologized, with at least one more trial pending against him. He also lost his job at Uber for failing to cooperate with investigators. Baidu also has a similar conflict with the startup Jingchi, but dropped the lawsuit against the driverless car startup in March 2018.

We can assume that Zhang’s work on developing a chip for sensor fusion was successful. Otherwise Zhang would not have planned to leave the USA. It also became known that 5,000 people are working on the self-driving car at Apple. This also underlines the project’s relevance.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site:

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