This reads like the climax of a James Bond movie. A recently-fired Apple engineer stole secrets from the company, possibly in collusion with a Chinese self-driving car competitor, and was arrested by the FBI at San Jose Airport, just before boarding a plane to China. The Mercury News got the scoop, and kudos to them.
What’s more, the associated “Criminal Complaint” reveals a few previously unknown details of Apple’s secretive self-driving car effort.
The main reveal is the size of the program: 5,000 employees are “disclosed” on the project (out of 135,000 total Apple employees), and 2,700 have been granted access to project databases. That is a big self-driving car team.
The exact nature of the stolen secrets are not disclosed in the complaint, but they seem to involve proprietary circuit boards for sensors.
This is basically the Waymo-Uber lawsuit all over again, plus a dash of international intrigue.
A few years ago, Apple was a highly visible player in the self-driving car world, in spite of their attempted stealth and unwillingness to even acknowledge working on self-driving cars. Recently, Apple has become much less visible, basically because they aren’t demonstrating their cars and attention has moved on to companies that have products to show.
Think about the size of this self-driving car program, though. Then consider that Apple has more self-driving cars in California than any other company. And they have about $300 billion in cash.
Maybe we should be paying more attention to Apple.