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Digital wearables go ring-top

As startups gather in Helsinki for the annual Slush event, one of the fastest growing areas on the scene is the health and wellness sector. Within that growing category, digital health and wellbeing wearables are shifting from wrist-top to ring-top, with two Finnish companies poised to make their mark.

Katja Pantzar

On October 1st, Apple filed for a smart ring patent. The tech giant is the latest to move into ring-top digital devices, which have recently been launched by start-ups from Japan to the US and the Nordics.

In Finland, Christian Lindholm leads innovation at health and wellness accelerator Vertical in Espoo. He says wearables are key to the quantified-self movement that allows users to track physical activity, sleep, moods and other measurements.

"In Finland we have a long tradition of design and making beautiful objects and that's showing in the next incarnation of wearables, which is rings. Oura from Oulu and Moodmetric from Helsinki are two startups that are latching onto this trend," says Lindholm, a tech industry veteran.

Oura, Moodmetric and Vertical will all be at the sold-out Slush event, which runs Wednesday to Thursday at the Helsinki Convention Centre. 

Ring-size wellness computer

Oura Ring, which will ship its first rings at the end of November, is designed by well-known industrial designer Harri Koskinen. The company has raised 1.6 million euros in seed money and has backers including entrepreneurs Jyri Engeström, Marko Ahtisaari, Lifeline Ventures, Joi Ito, as well as Arch Meredith, an early direct investor in Tesla.

"Oura Ring helps you to recover from your mental and physical load so that you can optimise your performance. Recovery happens mostly when you are sleeping, so sleep monitoring and sleep quality improvement are the main features of the ring," says Kari Kivelä, co-founder, CTO and Head of Design for Oura.

Daily patterns and activities affect recovery and vice versa, says Kivelä. "If you have slept poorly and not recovered properly, it doesn't make sense to have a tough training day. So the ring is also an activity tracker," he says.

"It’s all about balancing the load: there are days when you can challenge yourself and push your limits, and days when you need to take it easy,” says Kivelä.

The ring measures heart rate and beat interval, motion and body temperature, and acts as a standalone device that can store data for up to three weeks. Whenever there’s a Bluetooth connection it sends and syncs data. Then the app visualises sleep and recovery data, and provides guidance on how to improve sleep quality and overall wellness and performance, says Kivelä.

More than just feelings

Mood monitoring is another new focus in digital wellness.

Niina Venho is the CEO of Moodmetric, a modern digital mood ring invented by PhD Henry Rimminen and designed by silversmith Vesa Nilsson.

"Emotional intelligence is thought to be even more important than IQ. Becoming aware of your emotions and the emotions of others builds your emotional intelligence. You will perform better at work, at home," says Venho.

The ring measures skin conductance, a measurement used in psychological tests, and helps people find ways to calm down, with meditation and mindfulness exercises. For example, people who have a tendency to get anxious before important meetings could use the ring to calm their nerves.

"It's really a 21st-century upgrade of the mood ring of the 1970s. It visualises your emotions, but is much more scientific and technical," says Venho.

Proactive healthcare

The underlying goal of wearables in the health and wellbeing sector is to improve people's health, wellbeing and happiness.

"We will be able to help people's habits with this type of technology, thus move a lot of the onus of the users from reactive healthcare to proactive healthcare. That's really the big benefit," says Vertical's Christian Lindholm.

"For example, if you are calorie-conscious and you have a gadget that tells you how much activity burns how many calories, then you might think twice before eating a high-calorie snack. If we can make those types of small changes in everyday situations, we can probably get this obesity beast under control," he says.

The global economic impact of obesity is about two trillion euros a year, which is in on par with the economic damage caused by smoking or armed violence, war, and terrorism, according to a 2014 report by the McKinsey Global Institute.

"More than 2.1 billion people in the world are obese, whereas the number of people living in starvation is less than one billion. About 50 years ago these figures were reversed. In 50 years we have gone from a starving planet to an obese planet. This is an enormous health problem and one of the reasons we started Vertical -- to try to solve this problem," says Lindholm.

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