We’ve long been excited about Google’s upcoming Project Glass wearable computer. However, today at Mobile World Congress we saw a prototype set of AR goggles that make Google’s device look like a toy. The product of an experiment by the R&D department at Brilliantservice, a Japan-based app development house, these nameless goggles are on display here at Mobile World Congress in order to showcase the company’s Viking operating system for headsets.

We had a chance to don the goggles, which unlike Project Glass, cover both eyes with 720p see-through displays and use the Viking OS to draw a painting, open apps and even match names with people’s faces just by looking at them. Written in Objective C, Viking relies on gesture controls as its primary form of input. As we stuck our hand out in front of our face, the depth-perception camera on top of the nose bridge recorded our movements and we were able to see a graphical avatar of our hand projected on the heads-up display.

For the benefit of people visiting the booth and our video viewing audience, the protoype headset was connected to a laptop which mirrored what we were seeing in the goggles. However, in real life, the user would simply wear the goggles and look through them. 

Even though we had to put the Viking prototype on over our prescription glasses, we were able to make out all the graphics in the operating system clearly as they appeared on the headset’s lenses. We had to make sure we kept our gaze focused on the lenses, because the images were very translucent. However, the good news is that the graphics didn’t overwhelm our field of vision. It would be very easy for us to wear these all day and walk around in them.

We then pushed the same finger forward to move press a virtual brush down on paper and dragged it around by simply moving our hand with our index finger extended. To close the app, we simply held all five fingers out until a graphical exit arrow appeared on screen, at which point we moved our hand down to exit the app and return to the home screen.

Since this the software is in a very early state, there was very little content in the OS. There were two shortcuts, one for the drawing app and another for a phone dialer, a graphic of a map and a clock with a couple of non-working settings buttons. To scroll up and down the desktop, we had to raise and lower our head; the device does not support horizontal scrolling.

Viking OS also lets you know whether your hand is too close to your face or too far way from it. If your arm isn’t extended enough, a shadow will appear below your hand avatar on screen. If it is extended too far, the on-screen hand will turn red.

The protoype was able to perform some very basic facial recognition. When we looked at Johannes Lundberg, the senior engineer responsible for the device, a box appeared around his head which correctly showed his name. However, when we looked at another both-goer who was not listed in the system, the software incorrectly identified him as someone else, rather than simply reporting that he was not in the database.

The Viking prototype AR goggles will never come to market. Instead, Brilliantservice is looking to partner with a hardware developer who can work with the company to design and manufacture a headset that uses the Viking OS. The device was used is meant as a reference design, but not an endpoint. Lundberg showed us a non-working headset that looked much more like a set of sunglasses than goggles.

While the Viking OS itself still has a long way to go, we’re impressed with its immersive, gesture-controlled UI. Putting screens over both eyes is key to providing this experience and we hope more headset developers will follow suit.

Lundberg told us that he is the only person working on the project and only started on it last summer so the amount he’s accomplished in such a short time is truly impressive. He said that, when he finds a partner, he’d like the final device to include voice recognition and a bluetooth style controller for situations where users are in tight spaces and can’t stick their arms out.

We look forward to seeing how the Viking OS and the hardware based on it develops over time.

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This story was originally written for LAPTOP and is reprinted with permission here. Copyright 2013 LAPTOP, a TechMediaNetwork company.