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What is an Oura Ring? NBA taps wearable tech to help protect players

Thomas Barrabi

The NBA is making a “smart ring” available to its players as part of a complex plan to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic when play resumes at Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, on July 30.

The league purchased hundreds of the wearable technology devices manufactured by Finnish startup Oura Health. Players and staffers active in the NBA’s “bubble environment” have the option of wearing the titanium health trackers, one of several methods the league is utilizing in an effort to immediately identify potential cases of COVID-19.

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The Oura Ring tracks key health data, including heart rate, respiration rate, body temperature and sleep patterns. The device provides feedback based on the data, including a readiness score that alerts users to their level of physical performance.

"We had research projects going with UCSF and West Virginia University, and the data was pretty compelling,” Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai told Axios. “When the NBA's wearables committee caught wind of both studies, they reached out around the end of April.”

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As part of a study conducted in conjunction with Oura, researchers at West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute developed a digital platform they say could provide an early warning system for cases of COVID-19. Using data gathered by the Oura Ring and artificial intelligence, the platform can predict the onset of COVID-19 symptoms with an accuracy of more than 90 percent.

Privacy concerns are a primary obstacle for the adoption of wearable tech devices in professional sports. Most of the data collected from NBA players who opt in to wearing the ring won’t be shared with officials, according to Rai.

The Oura Ring sells for $299 to $399 at retail and its user base isn’t limited to athletes. Prominent users in the corporate realm include Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Fast Company reported in 2019.

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The company’s investors include Shaquille O’Neal, Lance Armstrong and Will Smith.

The NBA’s 2019-20 season is set to resume July 30. Play stopped in mid-March after the coronavirus pandemic made games a public health risk.

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