Users of Oura's smart health tracker ring first discovered its coronavirus detection benefits, CEO says

Key Points
  • Researchers said the Oura ring can recognize symptoms of Covid-19 symptoms up to three days in advance with 90% accuracy. 
  • The NBA has purchased more than 1,000 Oura rings as its basketball players and coaches head to Orlando, Florida, to restart their season. 
  • Oura CEO Harpreet Rai told CNBC on Tuesday the ring also provides sleep and stress reduction benefits.
How Oura's smart ring can assist in early Covid-19 detection
How Oura's smart ring can assist in early Covid-19 detection

When the NBA travels to the Orlando bubble to resume their season, the league is providing players and staff with a smart ring that can help as an early predictor of coronavirus. But the Oura health tracker ring was not originally intended to detect coronavirus and it happened almost by surprise, the company's CEO told CNBC on Tuesday.

The titanium ring was originally intended to provide its users with an overall picture of their health by looking at their movement, sleep and other functions. But its users began noticing that changes in their overall health score could be early predictors for illness. 

"It started with our users," Harpreet Rai, chief executive officer of Oura, said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "One user of ours in Finland was traveling in early March. His scores were normally in the 80s or 90s and he noticed his readiness score dropped to 50 and that caused him to get tested. He was positive for coronavirus."

The Oura ring costs upwards of $300 and measures and logs data ranging from sleep and body temperature to heart rate and respiratory function. Researchers said the device has been successful in recognizing Covid-19 symptoms up to three days in advance with 90% accuracy.

As the NBA heads to Walt Disney World in Florida, the league is making available a host of technological bells and whistles to both players and staff including the Oura ring. Rai said the league has ordered more than 1,000 Oura rings. "They felt like giving the players and staff an added rate of protection and frankly peace of mind," he told CNBC.

In Orlando, the rings are optional but players and staff who decide to participate will have their data studied and assessed by the University of Michigan to help generate an overall wellness assessment of each person. The company said that changes to users' illness probability scores can indicate they may be at higher risk or showing signs of coronavirus. The app that accompanies the ring provides features such as meditation to reduce stress and anxiety. 

Users may also find another benefit from the ring: The sleep tracking feature. Oura tracks signals the body sends out during rest and provides insights on how to improve sleep habits.

As companies such as Apple continue to invest in wearables, Rai said that what differentiates Oura is that it tracks temperature during sleep. "I'm glad to see others are starting to focus on sleep," he added. "We're not getting enough of it as a society, but I think there is going to be more and more competition."