When we think of robots we usually think of three-dimensional objects specifically designed to carry out a certain set of functions on their own. However, research has now led to the invention of a “robotic skin” that can transform everyday inanimate objects – for example a soft-toy horse or dog – and make them behave like robots.

Researchers from Yale University have created the skins, which can be wrapped around existing objects and manipulated through external controls. “We can take the skins and wrap them around one object to perform a task – locomotion, for example – and then take them off and put them on a different object to perform a different task, such as grasping and moving an object,” Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, lead researcher on the project, said in a statement. The video above demonstrates how it works.

The technology is expected to be useful in environments like space, where the capacity of astronauts is limited. Robot skins that are compact and adaptable can help overcome the constraints of sending large-scale robots into space.