Oura Ring CEO on the future of illness detection and self-isolation

We speak to the Oura CEO on becoming an illness early-warning system
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It’s been a massive year for Oura – the San Francisco-based smart ring company. Back in February the company raised $28m in funding, showing how much the smart ring market has grown, before becoming the first consumer wearable to enter trials as an early warning system for Covid-19.

The study by University of California San Francisco (UCSF) is tracking the health of 2,000 frontline health workers (and 15,000 Oura users) using the Oura Ring to monitor their vitals.

100,000s of people pass away from flu – it doesn’t have to be that way

And while the Oura Ring is ss tracker with a focus on sleep monitoring, the intention of the study is to find out if it can spot the early signs of Covid-19.

But this story isn’t about Covid-19 – it’s about what happens next.

“Hundreds of thousands of people pass away from flu, and our view is that it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Harpreet Rai, CEO of Oura.

“It puts a load on the healthcare system, it seems that with all the technology that’s out there – I believe that we can get smarter about this as a society.”

“I do think ultimately that could make a lot of sense for a wearable to do that – but we’re happy to support healthcare workers in a time of need.”

So why Oura?

“We have 2,000 healthcare workers, and really, our view and that of researchers at UCSF, there are indicators of really good indication of changes in heart rate, heart rate variability, respitorary rate and temperature, before the onset of symptoms,” Rai told Wareable.

I do think ultimately that could make a lot of sense for a wearable to monitor for illness

The idea for the study came afhe’d taken action because of unusual anomalies in his Oura data – and tested positive for Covid 19.

“We have the capacity to capture temperature data every single minute, so we will capture all the data we can and leave it up to the researchers to find what’s the most relevant. That’s out of our hands in a research study, as it should be,” Rai continued.

Oura Ring CEO on the future of illness detection and self-isolation

When this is all behind us, it will be interesting to see whether attitudes to illness, contagiousness and self isolation change. And that’s something Harpreet Rai is already thinking about:

“People are starting to realise for their health, and that of their family or co-workers, that this kind of information, that you might be getting sick, can really stop the spread,” Rai continued.

And he believes the notion of self-isolation won’t die along with this specific outbreak

“If there were more systems to say “hey you may be picking this up, stop spreading it” you would not want to spread that to co-workers.

“These viruses can’t live without a host – so the data with UCSF hopefully validate the findings and show this could be used as an early mechanism to help people to self quarantine.”

Getting approval

It remains to be seen whether, as a society, our habits will change around illness – but if we’re prepared to go to such lengths to protect the vulnerable against Covid-19, it would make sense that we take more steps against other types of seasonal flu.

Oura Ring CEO on the future of illness detection and self-isolation

But things aren’t that simple in the world of medical tech. That’s why few devices have managed to get themselves even certified by the FDA, let alone fully approved.

So for Oura to become a wearable that's not just proven to detect onset of illness, but also alert users, will take time.

“There are certain applications that have seen with Apple and aFib that have got certain, specific indications from the FDA. But something this broad hasn’t been done yet by a wearable, so yes, it’s new grounds and we will have to figure it out as we go.”

“But our aim now is to show that we can do this, and learn the best way to apply it that can inform positive behaviour.”

How we test

James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and T3.com and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

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