When I put on the headset, it wasn’t as disorienting as I had been told to expect. The optical illusion of the hologram floating in front of me worked well enough, but the 40° field of view kept my vision mostly clear. I was getting a demo at the Trimble Dimensions conference, and a helpful Trimble employee walked me through the sight- and gesture-based interface. I stared at a 3D model on a bare table, then expanded it until I was standing on a street outside it.

Mixed reality is a new form of content visualization, distinct from 2D screens or VR goggles. Architects will surely find it useful for giving owners dazzling walk-throughs of possible designs. Advocates say mixed reality is the biggest thing to hit design and construction since BIM. Today, Trimble’s HoloLens-compatible SketchUp Viewer can’t handle detailed BIM models or complex annotations. Its long-distance collaboration is a step up from screen-sharing conference calls, but its usefulness in actual workflows is limited.

Near the end of the demo, my guide said he had one more thing to show, but it was unfinished. I now saw a detailed 3D model of an office tower, with structural connections and the telltale color-coding of a full BIM model. The frame rate stuttered as I walked around and leaned in to inspect details, but it was mostly there—until it crashed. The hardware isn’t ready, but there is something about seeing a nearly complete model in real space. But when such technical hurdles are cleared, engineers and contractors should check it out—seeing the full model at the site could be a step up from staring at a screen.