The Stanford student building AR to revolutionize sports

Nearly a decade after packing his bags and moving to Mexico to try his hand at pro soccer, Kevin Ubilla MS ’26 is building a device he believes could revolutionize the sports field – and beyond.

Dubbed the Elis XR, Ubilla’s device combines a headset with an augmented reality (AR) heads-up display. With a flick of the wrist, a monocle-sized screen pops out, extends, and slides neatly in front of a user’s field of view.

In its current iteration, the Elis XR’s screen can mirror anything that’s on a user’s phone. However, the final version of the headset will support an open-source, decentralized platform, according to Ubilla. That means developers can develop and sell apps that are designed specifically for the headset.

Since Ubilla postponed his enrollment at Stanford to develop Elis XR, he has entered discussions with several Bay Area sports teams to use the device as part of various pilot programs.

The device’s suite of apps will allow athletes to fulfill various needs on the go, from Zoom meetings with coaches to reviewing daily workouts, Ubilla said. A fitness tracking app is also preinstalled on the headset, allowing athletes to access information about their health.

At first glance, the headset is reminiscent of previously failed “smart glasses”, including Google Glass, the once-hyped product that has notoriously fallen from favor following various bugs and privacy concerns. Ubilla says the headset fills a specific niche in the AR market that Google Glass never filled, as the Ellis XR is geared towards the needs of athletes.

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“Google Glass failed because it tried to appeal to everyone,” Ubilla said. “It never solved a single use case. It never addressed a single real problem that people had.”

But the other Google Glass-related issue that Ubilla says Elis XR is hoping to address is its inconvenience. According to Elizabeth Childs, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. For students, current AR headsets are not only prohibitively expensive, but also simply too big – a major handicap given the advantages of a headset-style design over other AR mediums.

“If it weren’t for the cost and form factor, I would definitely use one,” Childs said. “It’s a much more realistic experience than looking through a screen. You can just have things in your vision as needed.”

Ubilla says Elis XR’s focus on comfort sets it apart from other headsets, with its hand wave-controlled, retractable screen that remains both unobtrusive and flexible for everyday use.

“One reason Google Glass didn’t work was because people didn’t want that thing on their face 24/7,” Ubilla said. “This headset allows the screen to whip out and then move out of the way after you’ve done what you need to do.”

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The idea for Elis XR is partly rooted in an unsuccessful athletic career. After failing to make the first team for Mexican football club Fuerzas Basicas as a teenager, Ubilla turned to science. At UC Berkeley, Ubilla attempted to transition from soccer to soccer, but struggled to memorize his team’s playbook and again found he could not obtain playing time, which motivated him as he started brainstorming Eli’s XR started.

But athletics is just the first step for Ubilla, who has a bigger vision for his project. Ubilla envisions Elis XR as something that can be adopted by more than just professional athletes, which he sees as the first stop for entering a market with largely unsuccessful products.

One industry that’s on Ubilla’s radar is gaming: an area where even the smallest advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat. According to Ubilla, a source of frustration for competitive gamers is the fact that many first-person shooter games require toggling between menus, which often means taking your eyes off the main game screen. Elis XR addresses this deficiency with its screen, which Ubilla hopes will be able to host these menus separately on the side.

However, according to Childs, who studies AR applications in education, there are a variety of other contexts where AR headsets like the Elis XR could find use. Childs envisions using AR headsets to realistically simulate chemistry labs in schools with limited funds or resources.

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“The idea is that you combine digital and real-world experiences,” Childs said. “For example, in a chemistry lab, you can use liquids like water or oil to simulate physical composition and then overlay the visual changes.”

Jeremy Bailenson, communications professor and founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, wrote in an email to The Daily that AR also has value in telepresence: maintaining the “spatial layout of a conversation.”

Bailenson, who teaches COMM 166: Virtual People, a class taught primarily in virtual reality, pointed to AR’s ability to preserve “spatial cues like gaze and interpersonal distance” in a way that enhances interaction in the real world mimics world.

Ubilla’s ultimate goal is for Elis XR to completely replace the smartphone. By hosting its own decentralized apps, the headset aims to offer its own AR alternative to mobile computing, Ubilla said, something he calls the “next step forward” in the field.

“I want to take people from a heads-down display to a heads-up display,” Ubilla said. “Rather than looking at our phones, we can look at an immersive experience – one that’s built into our everyday lives.”

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