May 12, 2021 at 06:21PM

The average consumer may not have heard of the Finnish wearable maker Oura yet — but they have most certainly heard of the firm’s most high-profile users. The NBA, NASCAR, UFC and Formula One racing have all struck deals with the firm, which offers a wedding-sized ring that can measure heart rate (a signal of an athlete’s overall health) and body temperature, which could indicate the nascent phases of infection.

Brought to the world by the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Oura’s first version of its wearable product had one simple purpose: measuring sleep. 

“You’re going to do it every day, no matter what — 99.9 percent of people will likely try to sleep tonight,” Harpreet Singh Rai, Oura’s CEO, told Forbes. “We believe it’s perhaps one of the most impactful things to your health that’s being under-looked.” 

Sleep was a starting point, but Oura has since woken up to the larger potential opportunities in the wearables market. The company has expanded into fitness tracking, followed by a host of investors looking to hop on board the trend, which has seen Oura’s sales double up over the last year. The firm recently closed a $100 million Series C investment round led by Temasek, Jazz Venture Partners, The Chernin Group, Bedford Ridge Capital, Japan’s One Capital and Elysian Park, a fund affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, according to Forbes.

The latest round of funding brings the firm’s valuation to just shy of the unicorn range at $800 million, according to a source with knowledge of the deal, and will go toward R&D and adding functionality.

As of now, the ring provides three daily scores for wearers: sleep, activity and readiness. On the agenda, Singh Rai noted, is the creation of an “insight engine,” designed to give more personalized recommendations to wearers to help improve their health overall. “We want to validate and prove our research first,” he said. “We then want to go ahead and see where the industry goes, and we anticipate it moving more toward medically regulated devices.” 

That’s an aggressive path for a company that has a slightly new take on wearable tech by offering a ring instead of the more traditional watch form factor — and it could be making a big push at just the right moment.  

According to new data from the Munich-based Smart Payments Association (SPA), as published in its Wearable Tech 2021: The Future Is Now paper, “… wearable payment volumes will have reached $501.1 billion by the end of 2020, accounting for 20 percent of all proximity payments,” and “wearable payments increased by 365 percent between 2017 and 2020, with a quarter of Europeans planning to buy goods and services using the technology in the future.”

The SPA’s focus is payments — but wearables capabilities are getting more expansive, serving as medical trackers, personal trainers and entertainment conduits. They have moved past the fun fad phase, and are realizing their long-touted potential to enable all manner of connected consumer experiences around commerce, fitness, health and more.  

That means the field of wearables competitors is getting more crowded and more inventive by the day, with some major players stepping in. Facebook Reality Labs has revealed their prototype wearable that is capable of reading neurological signals between brains and hands, opening a range of applications including invisible keyboards.

And Apple recently patented a smart ring — not even its first — billed as “a self-mixing interferometry (SMI) sensor-based gesture input system.” Translated from Apple to English: a ring that would be able to sense its position in space in relation to other devices, like an iPad or the Apple Pencil.

And the wearables race has been growing and getting more competitive for some time — Google bought up Fitbit, and Peloton has spent some serious coin to acquire three firms for artificial intelligence (AI)-powered hardware and wearables to come.

What will those devices look like? Watches have ruled the roost so far, but rings are starting to look like an up-and-comer that can do comparable things while taking up less space. And perhaps we haven’t yet seen the next-gen wearable that will change the game — Snapchat is trying to get glasses to work, as is Facebook (though they say they’re harder than it would seem). It could even be something none of us have ever imagined — smart tattoos, perhaps or AR/VR contact lenses.  

What’s next specifically for wearables seems to be still under development. But they’re here — and are rapidly creating a world where one doesn’t ever feel fully dressed if they’re not equipped with the right tech.

Read More On Wearables:

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