Imagine for a second – you fled your home over 50 years ago due to political upheaval, and you can never go back. You're not allowed. Through the years, those memories of home become fainter, less pronounced, but there's still a certain nostalgia when you think of them. And then your grandchild comes around and says, "I can get you back there. Sort of."
Julian Yuri Rodriguez and Andres Rivera grew up in Miami – a mere hundred miles from Cuba. Julian's grandmother fled Cuba in 1958 and hasn't been back since, thanks to the complicated relations between the United States and the remnants of Fidel Castro's government.
And she might never have seen the Havana of her childhood again, except for Julian and Andres. The pair traveled to Cuba in the spring with a small 3D-capable GoPro rig and filmed a number of small vignettes, capable of playback on the Oculus Rift (or, presumably, another VR headset).
The Havana experiment, titled Paisajes de mi Abuela ("My Grandmother's Landscapes"), isn't the first location to be documented on 3D video. There's the short film Zero Point, you can find some on Oculus Share or Samsung's new GearVR app, and companies like Kolor are building an entire business off the technology.
A virtual visit to Cuba
What's perhaps most notable about Paisajes though is that it captures an area most people have (until recently, anyway) been barred from. It would be similarly interesting to see similar footage from North Korea or Chernobyl. Julian and Andres have apparently spent the holidays visiting older Cuban ex-pats at home and showing them the film.
So far, I think it's fair to say the Oculus Rift has mostly garnered attention for its gaming capabilities. That's not too big a surprise – those of us who game a lot are used to spending a lot of money on costly peripherals, so we're perfectly positioned to shell out for an expensive device that quite frankly isn't even ready for mass consumption yet.
But it's a shame when people dismiss it as "just" a gaming device, because it has the potential for so much more. We've explored some of those capabilities in the past – architecture, medical training, PTSD treatment, and the like – but something like Paisajes shows we're just barely scratching the surface of what creative people can do with virtual reality.