The potential for technology to improve health and wellness by simply facilitating better, smarter living is huge. Athletes are ahead of the game, already making use of tools like Fitbit and Nike Fit to monitor their activities, but this week we're looking at the OURA ring, which could bring tech-assisted living to a much wider user base.
The core function of the OURA ring — which, by the way, looks very nice for a piece of wearable tech — is sleep tracking. It monitors your pulse, body temperature and movements, and uses those to derive detailed information about your sleep cycles and habits. Where it truly shines is in presenting that information: it doesn't just dump a bunch of data on you, but compiles well-designed and easy-to-read graphs and charts into an ongoing sleep log. It also doesn't expect you to figure out what to do with the data all by yourself: the OURA pulls key observations and crafts recommendations, letting you know when you're well rested and ready for activity or when you should take it easy for a day, and informs you of patterns it notices, such as what level of physical activity during the day combined with what bedtime leads to you getting the soundest sleep. If it works well, it could unlock a host of life improvements for the average person, since very few of us consistently get a good night's sleep or pay much attention to the factors that affect us. Collecting this data is one thing, but making it friendly and accessible is a game-changer.
The OURA only reads a few core physical metrics: your pulse waveform, body temperature, and motion level, all of which are then fed through its proprietary algorithm to derive sleep stages. The creators claim that the results match those produced by a proper monitored sleep study, but I do have to wonder just how much room for error there is when making those complex determinations based on just a few indicators, since it seems like a number of individual factors could throw off the algorithm. In that sense, it puts me in mind of bathroom scales that claim to measure body fat based on electrical resistance — leading to wildly inconsistent and inaccurate readings. However, the OURA does appear considerably more sophisticated than that, and it will be interesting to see how it fares when adopted in bigger numbers by a wider variety of people.
Of course, there's a bigger conversation to be had around devices like the OURA, and one that was a workshop subject at the Copia Institute's Inaugural Summit this year: privacy and ethics. As more people begin gathering more and more data about their health — by using devices like this and by leveraging technology to take greater control of their medical history and records — it's even more important than usual that we give consideration to how that data is handled. On the one hand, people have a right to control this sort of information about themselves; on the other hand, there is huge potential for data-based medical advancement if scientists are able to look at that information in aggregate. The OURA is collaborating with an online platform dedicated to personal data management and sharing to give users control over their sleep data and the ability to contribute some or all of it to anonymized data sets — but there also isn't a tremendous amount of information about privacy on the OURA's project page. I think many potential users would like to know more on that front before putting a monitor on their finger and pressing record.