Oura partners with UCSF to determine if its smart ring can help detect COVID-19 early

Startups continue to find new ways to contribute to ongoing efforts to fight the global spread of COVID-19 during the current global coronavirus pandemic, and personal health hardware-maker Oura is no exception. The smart ring startup is working with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) on a new study to see if its device can help detect early physiological signs that might indicate the onset of COVID-19.

This study will include two parts: Around 2,000 frontline healthcare professionals will get Oura rings to wear during the study. The rings track a user’s body temperature continuously, as well as their sleep patterns, heart rate and activity levels. Fever is a common and early symptom that could indicate COVID-19, and a continuously updated body temperature reading could detect fever very early. That’s not enough to confirm a case of COVID-19, of course, but the purpose of the study is to determine whether the range of readings Oura’s ring tracks might, taken together and with other signals, be useful in some kind of early detection effort.

There’s good reason why researches believe that Oura could be used in early detection: An Oura user in Finland claims the ring alerted him to the fact that he was ill before he was displaying any overt symptoms of the virus, prompting him to get tested (relatively easy in that country). Test results confirmed that while asymptomatic, he had indeed contracted COVID-19. As a result, UCSF researcher Dr. Ashley Mason hypothesizes that the Oura ring could anticipate COVID-19 onset by as many as two to three days before the onset of more obvious symptoms, like coughing.

Being able to detect the presence of the virus in an individual early is key to global containment efforts, but even more important when it comes to frontline healthcare workers. The earlier a frontline responder is diagnosed, the less chance that they expose their colleagues or others they’re working around in close quarters.

In addition to the Oura rings being provided to study participants, the plan is to expand it to include Oura’s general user population, meaning its more than 150,000 global users can opt in to participate and add to the overall pool of available information with their ring’s readings and daily symptom surveys. For existing Oura users, it’s a relatively low-lift way to contribute to the global effort to combat the pandemic — without even leaving the house.

Oura raises $28 million for its health and sleep tracking ring

Smart rings are still a relatively young category in the wearable hardware world, but the Oura Ring seems to be a standout in terms of early success. The Oura Ring hardware is sleek and packed with sensors, allowing it to measure a user’s sleep patterns, take your body temperature and track activity, and now Oura has raised $28 million in Series B funding to bring on new key hires and product updates.

In a Medium post announcing the raise, Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai revealed that to date, the company has sold over 150,000 of its rings since launch (which was in early 2018) and that its team has grown to over 100 people globally. The Series B funding comes from Forerunner Ventures, which has a strong track record when it comes to direct-to-consumer product company investments, as well as from Gradient Ventures and Square.

Along with the investment, Oura gains two new board members, and one new board observer all with expertise in different aspects of the startup’s business: Forerunner’s Eurie Kim and Square’s hardware lead Jesse Dorogusker are the new board members, and Gradient partner (and former VP of engineering at Google) Anna Patterson joins as the observer.

Oura will be revamping its website and adding a new web-based portal for Oura Ring users that offers “actionable insights,” the company says, and it’s going to be doing more in terms of collaborating with academic researchers on ensuring its products measurements and guidance remain as accurate and useful as possible.

Oura prioritizes the role of sleep in terms of its contribution to health, and has also recently ventured into the realm of meditation, but it acts as a general fitness tracking device as well. It has attracted a number of fans among the plugged-in tech elite, too, including Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey. The company deserves kudos for delivering a solid, attractive and feature-rich gadget in a category that seemed like a tough sell in the early offing, and this new funding is a good vote of confidence.