An AI-powered horse pain detection system
Note: Maheen Rashid was a Keller Pathway Fellow in 2019/20. This interview was conducted in winter 2020.
Maheen Rashid is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in computer science at UC Davis. Rashid completed her undergraduate degree in computer science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences then obtained a master’s degree in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.
In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.
I am working on a horse pain monitoring system that will use surveillance video footage and computer vision to figure out when a horse is showing signs of pain, and alert the horse’s caregiver to provide them with pain relief and medical attention. It’s targeted towards horse owners and will help in early diagnosis of illness while minimizing horse suffering.
What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?
I think artificial intelligence (AI) is equated with robots taking away jobs, authoritarian surveillance, creepy targeted advertising and fake news. However, there’s a lot of good that can be done with AI too, and being able to detect pain and alleviate it in nonverbal animals is one way. I don’t want my research to remain in the lab; I want people to actually use it so that their horses don’t suffer needlessly and live happier lives.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
I find it very satisfying to link obscure deep learning concepts to practical real world problems, and I feel it’s important for technical solutions to be robust beyond the lab environment where they’ve been developed and tested.
I’m most passionate about making sure that what I develop can work well in the field and that I fully understand when and why it’s likely not to work.
What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?
It helped to think about developing a business as a series of experiments that reduce uncertainty and increase value. It linked my experience as a researcher to entrepreneurship and made business development seem less foreign and daunting.
What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?
“It’s better to be specifically wrong than vaguely right.” It still sounds funny to me. However, I understand that specific assertions are easier to test, prove or disprove, and build on. On the other hand, vague generalizations are hard to test and communicate.
Briefly describe your Big Bang! project/venture. How is participation in the Big Bang! workshops and competition helping you an aspiring entrepreneur?
Sleipnir Tech is an AI-powered horse pain detection system for horse owners and practitioners. We use surveillance video footage to provide real time, round-the-clock, expert-level horse pain monitoring that improves horse welfare, decreases health costs and gives owners peace of mind from knowing their horse is in good hands.
It is difficult to set aside time for something that isn’t directly related to my Ph.D.
The workshops and competition have given me the space, structure and support to pursue this venture alongside my research without feeling overwhelmed.
The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?
A lot of venture capitalists and angel investors are not women or people of color. Maybe it’ll be useful to head-on address the biases women and POC entrepreneurs face or are likely to face so that they’re better prepped to handle them.
How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?
I don’t know yet. Let’s see.