China's high-stakes gaokao university entrance exams have spawned creative and increasingly sophisticated forms of cheating among teens.
Last month, 23 people were arrested for trying to "arrange cheating" before the exam period began, according to The Associated Press, and hundreds more have made headlines for hiring "exam surrogates," buying James Bond-esque spy gear, and even for wearing fingerprint film to pass machine checks as other students.
Authorities are well aware of the lengths students will go to for a great exam score — the measure that determines whether or not students will go to college and be able to land a decent job — but cheating has been hard to police alongside the rapidly evolving world of digital communications.
Enter the robots.
On Sunday, more than nine million high school graduates began the annual days-long examination after months of studying, stressing, and travelling with their parents to test-administration sites.
Those tested in Luoyang, Henan province, were joined by six-propeller drones designed to monitor them from above for signs of cheating.
The flying bots are equipped with scanners to detect any signals emanating from, or being sent to, someone inside the examination building — whether through hidden ear pieces, picture-taking pens that can transmit messages, or devices like the Apple Watch (which, like mobile phones, is strictly forbidden).
No such signals have been detected this year so far, but if they are, the drone would transmit real-time information to test proctors with tablets on the ground.
Citing an official government newspaper, AP reported that each drone cost hundreds of thousands of yuan (tens of thousands of dollars) to make. Each drone is as big as a gas station pump when extended.
Many blame China's cheating problem on the intense pressure thrust upon students ahead of their all-important university entrance exam.
"The gaokao is seen as a make-or-break opportunity, especially for those from poorer families, in a country where a degree is essential for a good job," writes the BBC.
CNN says that doing well on the exams is "the only way to get into college. Failure means no degree, poorer job prospects and possibly a life of regret."