Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Motor Doping


How Olympics Officials Try to Catch “Motor Doping” 

At the Paris games, cyclists will have their bikes tested for hidden motors


Peter Fairley is a Contributing Editor for IEEE Spectrum.

closeup of person holding a large ipad up to the chain of a bike

The Union Cycliste Internationale uses magnetometric scanners to search for illegal motors hidden in cyclists’ bikes.


A French cycling official confronts a rider suspected of doping and ends up jumping onto the hood of a van making a high-speed getaway. This isn’t a tragicomedy starring Gérard Depardieu, sending up the sport’s well-earned reputation for cheating. This scenario played out in May at the Routes de l’Oise cycling competition near Paris, and the van was believed to contain evidence of a distinctly 21st-century cheat: a hidden electric motor.

Cyclists call it “motor doping.” At the Paris Olympics opening on Friday, officials will be deploying electromagnetic scanners and X-ray imaging to combat it, as cyclists race for gold in and around the French capital. The officials’ prey can be quite small: Cycling experts say just 20 or 30 watts of extra power is enough to tilt the field and clinch a race.

Motor doping has been confirmed only once in professional cycling, way back in 2016. And the sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has since introduced increasingly sophisticated motor-detection methods. But illicit motors remain a scourge at high-profile amateur events like the Routes de l’Oise. Some top professionals, past and present, continue to raise an alarm.

“It’s 10 years now that we’re speaking about this…. If you want to settle this issue you have to invest.”—JEAN-CHRISTOPHE PÉRAUD, FORMER UNION CYCLISTE INTERNATIONALE OFFICIAL

Riders and experts reached by IEEE Spectrum say it’s unlikely that technological doping still exists at the professional level. “I’m confident it’s not happening any more. I think as soon as we began to speak about it, it stopped. Because at a high level it’s too dangerous for a team and an athlete,” says Jean-Christophe Péraud, an Olympic silver medalist who was UCI’s first Manager of Equipment and the Fight against Technological Fraud.

But trust is limited. Cycling is still recovering from the scandals surrounding U.S. Olympian Lance Armstrong, whose extensive use of transfusions and drugs to boost blood-oxygen levels fueled allegations of collusion by UCI officials and threats to boot cycling out of the Olympics.

Many—including Péraud—say more vigilance is needed. The solution may be next-generation detection tech: onboard scanners that provide continuous assurance that human muscle alone is powering the sport’s dramatic sprints and climbs.

How Officials Have Hunted for Motor Doping in Cycling

Rumors of hidden motors first swirled into the mainstream in 2010 after a Swiss cyclist clinched several European events with stunning accelerations. At the time the UCI lacked means of detecting concealed motors, and its technical director promised to “speed up” work on a “quick and efficient way” to do so.

The UCI began with infrared cameras, but they are useless for pre- and post-race checks when a hidden motor is cold. Not until 2015, amidst further motor doping rumors and allegations of UCI inaction, did the organization begin beta testing a better tool: an iPad-based “magnetometric tablet” scanner.

According to the UCI, an adapter plugged into one of these tablet scanners creates an ambient magnetic field. Then, a magnetometer and custom software register disruptions to the field that may indicate the presence of metal or magnets in and around a bike’s carbon-fiber frame.

UCI’s tablets delivered in their debut appearance, at the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships held that year in Belgium. Scans of bikes at the rugged event—a blend of road and mountain biking—flagged a bike bearing the name of local favorite Femke Van den Driessche. Closer inspection revealed a motor and battery lodged within the hollow frame element that angles down from a bike’s saddle to its pedals, and wires connecting the seat tube’s hidden hardware to a push-button switch under the handlebars.

In 2016, a concealed motor was found in a bike bearing Belgian cyclist Femke Van Den Driessche’s name at the world cyclo-cross championships. (Van Den Driessche is shown here with a different bike.)AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Van den Driessche, banned from competition for six years, withdrew from racing while maintaining her innocence. (Giovambattista Lera, the amateur cyclist implicated earlier this year in France, also denies using electric assistance in competition.)

The motor in Van den Driessche’s bike engaged with the bike’s crankshaft and added 200 W of power. The equipment’s Austrian manufacturer, Vivax Drive, is now defunct. But anyone with cash to spare can experience 200 W of extra push via a racer equipped by Monaco-based HPS-Bike, such as the HPS-equipped Lotus Type 136 racing bike from U.K. sports car producer Lotus Group, which starts at £15,199 (US $19,715).

HPS founder & CEO Harry Gibbings says the company seeks to empower weekend riders who don’t want to struggle up steep hills or who need an extra boost here and there to keep up with the pack. Gibbings says the technology is not available for retrofits, and is thus off limits to would-be cheats. Still, the HPS Watt Assist system shows the outer bounds of what’s possible in discreet high-performance electric assist.

The 30-millimeter-diameter, 300-gram motor, is manufactured by Swiss motor maker Maxon Group, and Gibbings says it uses essentially the same power-dense brushless design that’s propelling NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. HPS builds the motor into a bike’s downtube, the frame element angling up from a bike’s crank toward its handlebars.

Notwithstanding persistent media speculation about electric motors built into rear hubs or solid wheels, Gibbings says only a motor placed in a frame’s tubes can add power without jeopardizing the look, feel, and performance of a racing bike.

UCI’s New Techniques to Spot Cheating in Cycling

Professional cycling got its most sophisticated detection systems in 2018, after criticism of UCI motor-doping policies helped fuel a change of leadership. Incoming President David Lappartient appointed Péraud to push detection to new levels, and five months later UCI announced its first X-ray equipment at a press conference in Geneva.

Unlike the tablet scanners, which yield many false positives and require dismantling of suspect bikes, X-ray imaging is definitive. The detector is built into a shielded container and driven to events.

UCI told the cycling press that its X-ray cabinet would “remove any suspicion regarding race results.” And it says it maintains a high level of testing, with close to 1,000 motor-doping checks at last year’s Tour de France.

UCI declined to speak with IEEE Spectrum about its motor-detection program, including plans for the Paris Olympics. But it appears to have stepped up vigilance. Lappartient recently acknowledged that UCI’s controls are “not 100 percent secure” and announced a reward for whistleblowers who deliver evidence of motor fraud. In May, UCI once again appointed a motor-doping czar—a first since Péraud departed amidst budget cuts in 2020. Among other duties, former U.S. Department of Homeland Security criminal investigator Nicholas Raudenski is tasked with “development of new methods to detect technological fraud.”

Unlike the tablet scanners, X-ray imaging is definitive.

Péraud is convinced that only real-time monitoring of bikes throughout major races can prove that motor fraud is in the past, since big races provide ample opportunities to sneak in an additional bike and thus evade UCI’s current tools.

UCI has already laid the groundwork for such live monitoring, partnering with France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, or CEA) to capitalize on the national lab’s deep magnetometry expertise. UCI disclosed some details at its 2018 Geneva press conference, where a CEA official presented its concept: an embedded, high-resolution magnetometer to detect a hidden motor’s electromagnetic signature and wirelessly alert officials via receivers on race support vehicles.

As of June 2018, CEA researchers in Grenoble had identified an appropriate magnetometer and were evaluating the electromagnetic noise that could challenge the system—“from rotating wheels and pedals to passing motorcycles and cars.”

Mounting detectors on every bike would not be cheap, but Péraud says he is convinced that cycling needs it: “It’s 10 years now that we’re speaking about this…. If you want to settle this issue you have to invest.”

Alain Riaud
Alain Riaud23 JUL, 2024

We focus on electric assist .... don't forget other energy storage, compressed air, elastomeres, for burst assist. Less efficient but hard to detect. My two cents.

access Chinese LLM chatbots


In partnership with Schneider Electric

The Download

Your daily dose of what’s up in emerging technology

By Rhiannon Williams • 07.24.24

Hello! Today: how you can access Chinese chatbots from anywhere in the world. Plus: heavy-duty trucking is being given a battery-powered makeover.  

How to access Chinese LLM chatbots across the world

Hundreds of Chinese large language models have been released since the government started permitting AI companies to open up their models for the general public to play around with in the summer of 2023. 

For users in the West, finding these Chinese models and trying them out can feel challenging, owing to language barriers and registration requirements. 

But in fact, a lot of the chatbots support conversations in English and are surprisingly easy to access. Whether you’re just curious to find out how well they perform or want to conduct more serious experiments for work, there are lots of ways to access Chinese LLM-powered chatbots. Here’s how anyone can try one out in minutes.

—Zeyi Yang


This story is part of MIT Technology Review's How To series: helping you to get things done. You can check out the rest of the series here.


How to access Chinese LLM chatbots across the world

Some models are available to users without Chinese phone numbers, while open-source platforms provide other workarounds.

July 23, 2024
An illustration showing a computer with various speech bubbles of content, representing large language models.

MIT Technology Review's How To series helps you get things done.

Hundreds of Chinese large language models have been released since the government started permitting AI companies to open up their models for the general public to play around with in the summer of 2023

For users in the West, finding these Chinese models and trying them out can feel challenging, owing to language barriers and registration requirements. And indeed, there are still hoops to jump through if you don’t have a valid Chinese phone number.

But in fact, a lot of the chatbots support conversations in English and are surprisingly easy to access. Whether you’re just curious to find out how well they perform or want to conduct more serious experiments for work, there are lots of ways to access Chinese LLM-powered chatbots. 

Here’s how anyone can try one out in minutes. 

If you have a Chinese phone number

First of all, if you have a Chinese phone number, there’s little trouble accessing any of the models we describe. In China, a domestic phone number is often a proxy for identity verification, and with it, you can basically access any online service, including AI chatbots. You just go to the model’s website and use the number to register an account. 

In our tests, we found that while some LLMs are accessible for users outside China, a few major ones, including models developed by Huaweithe cybersecurity firm 360, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, can only be accessed with a Chinese phone number. Unfortunately, if you are outside China, getting a local phone number can be close to impossible. Luckily, there are other ways.

Accessible without a Chinese number

A small number of Chinese AI platforms allow users outside China to access their chatbots directly. All you need to do is sign up, enter your phone number, and then enter the verification code you’ll get in a text message.

These chatbots include Doubao, an AI made by ByteDance that can generate text and images, search the internet, and make a summary of the documents you upload. ChatGLM, a multimodal tool developed by the newly emerged Chinese AI unicorn Zhipu, offers a similar set of features and is also available to non-Chinese numbers. 

Finally, DeepSeek, an AI company that’s barely a year old, is known in the industry for how cheap its model is. (It’s free for casual users but costs $0.14 per million tokens for business users. OpenAI’s similar model, GPT4-Turbo, costs $10 per million tokens.) You can easily test out its text chatbot and coding chatbot on its website by registering with an email address.

Hugging Face

Hugging Face is probably the largest global AI community right now, and it acts as a sort of GitHub for AI. Many open-source LLMs have put their code and applications on Hugging Face’s website. 

Chinese companies are no exception. A few have shared their code on Hugging Face for AI developers to use. Some have also set up a demo on the website so that less tech-savvy people can get instant access to the model without having to write any code of their own. Since Hugging Face doesn’t require a Chinese number to register, it becomes a workaround for testing out many Chinese models.

Most notably, there’s Qwen, an LLM made by Alibaba that recently topped Hugging Face’s Open LLM Leaderboard, a ranking that compares the results of different LLMs and assesses their qualities. Qwen surpassed models made by Meta, Microsoft, and other Chinese peers. You can easily have a text-based conversation with Qwen’s 2.0 version here.

Another Chinese tech giant, Tencent, also uploaded an AI model to Hugging Face; called Hunyuan-DiT, it can generate images based on text prompts. Other models based on the Hunyuan foundation, however, are not accessible on this website.

Yi, also called 01.AI, was founded by the famous Taiwanese AI investor Kai-Fu Lee. Yi put a chatbot version of its model (which seems to be down at the moment) and another AI tool that can analyze and understand images on Hugging Face. DeepSeek, the aforementioned startup, put a similar visual analyzing tool on the company’s platform.


In November 2022, Alibaba released a platform called ModelScope. It’s sort of a domestic version of Hugging Face, where the Chinese AI community can congregate, access open-source models, and discuss trade. 

And because ModelScope allows users to register with a non-Chinese number, it acts as another useful workaround for accessing Chinese LLMs. A few Chinese companies—like Baichuan, another buzzy AI startup with Alibaba’s backing—have made their models available on ModelScope for anyone to test.

But what’s most useful on the platform is an “LLM Arena” application put together by Open Compass, an AI lab in Shanghai that works on evaluating different models. The arena, as its name suggests, lets users pit two models against each other and directly compare how they respond to the same prompt. Conveniently, since this application has integrated 11 Chinese models, it offers easy access to several AI tools that are otherwise off limits for non-Chinese users.

Beyond the Chinese models mentioned above, the Arena can generate answers from Baidu’s Ernie Bot and iFlytek’s Spark, as well as Minimax, Moonshot, and InternLM, all of which are heavyweights in the Chinese industry. Right now, you can’t generate photos or upload photos to the models this way, even if the models themselves support these multimodal capabilities. But for comparing text generated by Chinese models, as well as a few Western models like Llama 3 and Cohere’s Command R+, this seems like a very handy tool.