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Former Apple engineer sentenced to 6 months in prison for stealing self-driving car technology

Xiaolan Zhang, an ex-Apple employee who pleaded guilty to stealing data on the company’s self-driving car development, was sentenced to 120 days in prison and three years of probation. Zhang was arrested in 2018 at the San Jose airport just before boarding a flight to China. He initially denied guilt until, in 2022, he admitted to stealing trade secrets. In addition to prison, he was also fined nearly $150,000. Initially, Zhang faced up to 10 years and a fine of 250 thousand.

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The former Apple employee worked as a design engineer on Titan’s 10-year autonomous car project. According to Apple’s complaint, Zhang copied a 25-page document containing circuit board engineering diagrams for the drone onto his wife’s laptop via AirDrop. He also saved technical manuals describing the prototype and stole circuit boards and a Linux server from Apple’s lab.

Zhang quit after paternity leave and a trip to China, telling Apple he planned to work for XPeng Motors. This allegedly triggered an investigation that showed Zhang on surveillance cameras removing items and also transferring files to his wife’s laptop. He must report to prison by June 19, after which he will be sent to a minimum security facility as close to his home in San Jose as possible.

Apple has been working on a self-driving car for 10 years, but has not yet released a single commercial product. Recently, journalist Mark Gurman reported that the company has changed plans – it is now developing an electric car like Tesla, and not a full-fledged autonomous vehicle. The premiere of the long-awaited Apple Car is unlikely to take place before 2028.

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