Future of HelpDesk’s ‘FlashBot’ unclear once in-person classes resume

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Brian Boehmer operating ‘FlashBot’ during a shift.

Throughout the pandemic, a robot at the library HelpDesk has been helping students and staff with technology, but now that in-person classes are beginning again in the fall, FlashBot might be out of a job.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘FlashBot’ was used as a promotional tool for the School of Information Technology at events like Destination Kent State.

But when the pandemic started, ‘FlashBot’ became an essential tool to allow personable interactions without the risk of spreading.

“We could not have had the help desk if it wasn’t for the robot,” said Brian Boehmer, an operator for the robot.

The robot operates like a Segway for mobility, with a tablet attached as a display and camera. FlashBot’s home is at the TechHelp desk located in the library, where operators like Boehmer use the robot to interact with students to help them with various difficulties, like two-factor authentication and login issues.

The robot can be operated from anywhere with an internet connection, with Boehmer controlling it from his apartment on campus.

Boehmer also said that FlashBot had become popular amongst students, even when it was rolling around Destination Kent State wearing a TechHelp t-shirt. According to Boehmer, FlashBot even earned the nickname “Karen,” in reference to Karen Plankton on “SpongeBob SquarePants”.

But with in-person attendance returning to normal, the TechHelp desk may no longer require FlashBot’s services.

“The hope is that we’re essentially back to normal face-to-face operations at some point in the fall term,” said Thomas Mahon, who manages the robot at the TechHelp desk. 

“The robot can’t do everything, it doesn’t have any arms, so it can’t press buttons,” Mahon said. “It is more difficult to perform the same operation in some cases because typically the staff would just take somebody’s phone or laptop and say ‘do this, and away you go’.”

According to Mahon, the TechHelp department has received plenty of requests for future use of the robot, including using the robot as a welcoming kiosk at summer events for newcomers at Kent State.

While ‘FlashBot’ has become somewhat of an unsung hero of the pandemic, according to Boehmer, returning to in-person will allow the TechHelp desk to better help students.

Zachary Shepherd covers technology. Contact him at [email protected]