A Smart Ring Helps NBA and WNBA Players Detect Early Symptoms of COVID-19

August 14, 2020 by Jake Hertz

Smart ring company Oura has partnered with both the NBA and WNBA to keep players safe while the season resumes.

The struggle to resume professional sports in the United States warrants many considerations. If not planned thoroughly, an outbreak and inevitable shutdown of the league seems a real possibility.


Lebron James wearing a face mask

Lebron James wearing a face mask. Image used courtesy of Fastline Sports


To counteract the possibility of asymptomatic spread, both the NBA and the WNBA have formed a partnership with Oura, a wearable ring company meant to monitor health and detect early symptoms of COVID-19.


The Oura Ring

According to the company, the Oura Ring is one of the only mainstream consumer health wearables that measures body temperature directly from the skin rather than estimating it from
a user's external environment. The technology uses sensors to measure and analyze symptoms such as increased body temperature, heart rate variability, resting heart rate, respiratory rate, and sleep and activity patterns.

In a recent study at West Virginia University, scientists were able to use information from the Oura ring along with AI-guided models to predict the onset of COVID-19-related symptoms three days in advance with over 90% accuracy.

These impressive results are a proof of concept that wearable technology can potentially serve as a critical decision-making tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and safely reopen communities.


The Technology Behind the Ring

The Oura ring leverages a number of tiny electronic sensors to record biometrics and provide health insights to the wearer. The Oura Rring makes use of three sensors:

  • Infrared photoplethysmography sensors (PPG) for heart rate and respiration
  • Negative temperature coefficient (NTC) sensor for body temperature
  • 3D accelerometer for movement


Sensors in the Oura Ring

Sensors in the Oura Ring. Image used courtesy of Oura


The PPG sensors work similarly to those used in a hospital. Essentially, they send LED light through the skin and detect that light on the other side using a photodiode. Sampling at a rate of 250 readings per second, this sensor captures how light pulses through the arteries and accurately infers a user's heart's activity.

The temperature sensor is unique in that it measures temperature directly from the skin as opposed to estimating it from the surrounding environment. Finally, the accelerometer is used to capture activity both throughout the day and during sleep.


The Impact of a Three-Sensor System

With a relatively simple electronic system—only three sensors—the Oura Ring is able to provide results that are useful in an ongoing effort for public safety. As shown in the WVU study, indications of viral infections can be detected up to three days before symptoms appear, significantly decreasing the spread of disease.