Apple Engineer Accused of Stealing Self-Driving-Car Secrets

For the second time in about six months, a Chinese nationalist working on Apple Inc.’s Project Titan autonomous car program in California has been charged with stealing proprietary data.

Jizhong Chen, an Apple hardware development engineer, was arrested this month, one day before he was scheduled to fly to China. Apple had suspended him without pay on Jan. 11 after another employee saw him taking photographs in a restricted area of an Apple building, according to NBC Bay Area, which first reported the story.

Chen’s computer contained thousands of files of intellectual property, including schematics, diagrams and manuals, plus hundreds of photographs, according to a federal affidavit filed in San Jose, Calif. One of the photos reportedly shows an Apple-designed wiring harness for a self-driving car.

Chen claims he was merely backing up his work as an “insurance policy” after he was placed on Apple's performance improvement plan in December. Apple says the confidential information predates that time. The suit alleges Chen had applied for a job at Chinese carmaker Xiaopeng Motors Technology Co. (XMotors), which is developing its own autonomous vehicle technology.

Chen’s case follows last summer’s arrest of former hardware engineer Zhang Xiaolang on similar charges. Zhang, who pleaded not guilty in July, quit his job at Apple to join XMotors.

Apple has remained secretive about Project Titan, which reportedly had eased off plans to develop a full self-driving car to supply the enabling software. Last week, the company confirmed that it was cutting 200 people from the program. In the suit filed against Chen, Apple indicated some 1,200 people were working on Project Titan.