A former employee of Tesla Motors has admitted to stealing the Autopilot source code of the company and uploading it to his iCloud. He later took the code to the Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese startup.
Former Tesla engineer admits wrongdoing
Guangzhi Cao was formerly working as an engineer in Tesla and admitted to court this week that he uploaded Tesla’s zip files to his iCloud account in late 2018. The files contained the Autopilot source code for Tesla. Court filings reveal that Cao was still working for Tesla when he stole trade secrets. The company sued Cao earlier this year, claiming that he stole the company’s files and brought them to Alibaba backed Chinese EV startup Xiaopeng Motors (also called Xmotors or XPeng).
In the same court filing, Cao denied having stolen sensitive information from Tesla. His lawyers argued that he made extensive efforts to remove any sensitive information from the Tesla files before he ended his employment with the company. Interestingly, Cao is now the “head of perception” at XPeng. According to his LinkedIn profile, he develops and delivers autonomous driving tech for car production in his role at the Chinese startup.
What does Tesla say in its filings?
Tesla subpoenaed Apple to receive documents that confirmed that Cao’s stealing of trade secrets. Apple is not a part of this case, but a former employee of the car company was charged by the FBI for stealing trade secrets in July 2018. The secrets were related to a hush project related to autonomous cars. The employee allegedly Air Dropped sensitive information to his wife’s laptop but was caught leaving Apple campus with a box of equipment on CCTV. He had left Apple to join XPeng before his arrest. Cao too was a senior image scientist at Apple for two years, before he joined Tesla and finally moved to XPeng.
The issues have surfaced at an interesting time since the US and China are in the middle of a trade war. The US has accused Chinese companies of economic espionage and Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, was caught up in between the trade tensions.
For XPeng, this is the second time that it is being accused of trade secret theft. In a statement to Verge, the company said that it is investigating claims made by Tesla. It also said that it respects confidential information and intellectual property rights of a third-party. The company said that it did not cause Cao to steal Tesla’s confidential information and was not aware of any alleged misconduct on his part.