Tesla is suing a heat engineer for allegedly stealing the secrets of the “Dojo” supercomputer.

Yatskov worked near Tesla's headquarters in Fremont, California.
Zoom in / Yatskov worked near Tesla’s headquarters in Fremont, California.

Michael Vi / Getty

Tesla sued the former heat engineer on Friday for stealing a trade secret. The company has accused its former employee Alexander Yatskov of transferring confidential information from Tesla’s network to his personal laptop.

In January, Yatskov was hired to work on the Dojo, a supercomputer that Tesla is building to train its self-driving software. Through its customers’ vehicles, Tesla collects vast amounts of real-world camera data. Dojo will use this data to train neural networks powered by Autopilot, Tesla’s self-management software.

According to Tesla, Yatskov was assigned to a team that “conducts complex simulations of how different thermal designs affect heat distribution, and in turn affect the balance of speed, power, safety, cost and environmental care.”

Tesla says it has caught Yatskov transferring confidential details about the Dojo project from Tesla’s network to a personal computer. The company put him on administrative leave in April.

When confronted, Yatskov reportedly admitted to taking confidential information and promised to bring his personal laptop for inspection to Tesla’s security staff. But, according to Tesla, Yatskov did not bring the laptop he used regularly in previous weeks. Instead, he brought a “lapki” laptop that has barely been used since 2020.

Tesla states that Yatskov signed up for a laptop only once in 2022: the morning he brought it. He allegedly shone it with Tesla’s harmless documents to make it look as if he hadn’t stolen Tesla’s secrets. Yatskov resigned from Tesla on Monday, May 2.

Yatskov declined to comment

Tesla’s complaint says Yatskov lives in Manteca, California. LinkedIn cites Alexander Yatskov, who lives in Manteka and has been working as a heat engineer at Juniper Networks since March 2016. Yatskov has been named on several Juniper patents.

Prior to that, Yatskov spent a decade at supercomputer maker Cray and then a decade at a Massachusetts company called Thermal Form and Function. Yatskov earned his doctorate. in machine design at Moscow State University. In 2011, while working in Massachusetts, he earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Tufts University.

Yatskov’s LinkedIn site shows that he still works at Juniper Networks, but it seems unlikely that there were two heat engineers named Man Alexander Yatskov in Manteca, California. Maybe he just didn’t update his LinkedIn page when he started working at Tesla.

But I wanted to make sure – and give Yatsk a chance to comment on this story. His LinkedIn site links to consulting firm Robust Cooling Technologies. So I called the phone number listed on the company’s website. A man with a strong – probably Russian – accent answered the phone and introduced himself as Alexander Yatskov. When I said that I was a journalist calling about Tesla’s lawsuit, there was a long pause.

“No comment,” he finally said.

I asked him to at least confirm that I had reached the same Alexander Yatskov as the one Tesla was suing. “No comment,” he repeated. Then he hung up.

Tesla says it does not know how much information its former employee took or what he could do with it. Tesla sued Yatskov under the Business Secrets Protection Act, a 2016 law that tightened the protection of trade secrets. The company requested an order to return the stolen data, as well as compensation for the damage to Tesla.

Tim Lee was an employee of Ars from 2017 to 2021. In 2021, he launched Full Stack Economics, an independent email newsletter on economics, technology and public policy. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.

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