Xiaolang Zhang downloaded Project Titan data and took hardware from the company's campus, FBI claims.
The FBI has formally charged ex-Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang with stealing self-driving car secrets from his former employer and supplying the confidential information to Chinese driverless car startup XMotors.
The organisation investigated Zhang's activities after he resigned and told his employer he was planning to join the startup, leaving his role in Apple's Project Titan division.
He apparently acted suspiciously when handing his notice in and so his manager decided to look into Zhang's activity. The company's New Product Security Team noticed Zhang's network activity was unusual and so seized his devices, analysing how they had been used.
Just before Zhang resigned, Apple discovered activity on his devices has increased substantially compared to previous years at the firm and he had been accessing data about the company's prototypes and prototype requirements, the FBI said.
"The majority of his activity consisted of both bulk searches and targeted downloading copious pages of information from various confidential database applications," the documents filed with the Northern District Court of California read. "The information contained within the downloading contained trade secret intellectual property, based on the level of Zhang's access within Apple's autonomous vehicle team."
Zhang also visited the Apple Campus on an evening in April, at which point data was downloaded from Apple systems and he also left with a box of hardware from the premises, the filing said. The data was downloaded onto Zhang's wife's computer in an alleged attempt to avoid being discovered, before he tried to leave the country on 7 July, when he was arrested.
"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously," Apple said in a statement. "We're working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions."
Zhang faces a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and up to a $US250,000 fine if found guilty of stealing the company's secrets.