Apple Self-Driving Industrial Espionage Case Ends in Sentencing

The case was first announced in 2018

Apple logo
A long-running legal case involving Apple has reached its conclusion.
Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

A former Apple engineer will spend four months in prison, bringing a lengthy and contentious case to a close six years after the U.S. government first charged the engineer, Xiaolang Zhang. 9 to 5 Mac has been covering the case since shortly after it began, and their report on Zhang’s sentencing has a good overview of the issues to date.

The basics? Zhang worked for Apple in the U.S., where he worked on the company’s self-driving car project, Project Titan. He then left abruptly to work for another company, this one based in China, XMotors. When he did so, he brought several proprietary documents with him. Hence the charges against him, to which he eventually pleaded guilty. The Department of Justice also announced several charges in the case last year.

Zhang’s sentence will last for 120 days; once concluded, he will spend another three years on supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $146,984.00 in restitution charges for the theft. The sentencing cited the non-violent nature of the offense and Zhang’s lack of a previous criminal history as the reasons for his sentence — as 9 to 5 Mac’s reporting pointed out, his prison term is less than the year-long sentence that prosecutors has pursued.

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It’s been 10 years since Apple began working on Project Titan; since then, the initiative has undergone several permutations, with the size and scope of the project shifting over the years. Last month, Bloomberg reported that Apple’s entry into the vehicular market wouldn’t be available for sale until at least 2028, and that some of the self-driving capabilities would be reduced. Will this be the last push that gets Apple’s automaking project across the finish line?

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