MIE Students Bring Innovative Musical Shoe Concept to Life
The annual Fall Senior Design Showcase was held on December 5th, 2023 by UMass Amherst's Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department (MIE). During the event, a panel of expert judges consisting of UMass faculty, local business leaders, and entrepreneurs evaluated student projects based on their ability to capture customer needs, convert those needs into engineering specifications, and apply engineering analysis to generate designs, models, or prototypes.
One of the award-winning projects was the “Neely Drum Machine Shoes,” which was sponsored by Margo Neely, CEO of Neely & Daughters. Neely is the creator of the Neely Air TR-808 shoe concept, which allows users to digitally compose music through their foot movements. Neely’s innovative concept became a viral sensation, reaching millions of fans and receiving coverage in major media outlets around the world.
The four MIE students on the project—Ethan Jenkins, Kyle Early, Greg Gunsalus, and Samuel John—worked to bring Neely’s vision to life.
Team Lead Ethan Jenkins commented: “I was drawn to this project through my previous experience working with music production software and Arduino microcontrollers both within my courses and as a hobbyist. I knew early on that Margo’s concept would ultimately result in something incredibly exciting if we could deliver, and I simply couldn’t pass on the opportunity to combine my Mechanical Engineering education with the arts in such a novel fashion.”
The team delivered—they applied their engineering skills to design a system that integrated sensors and controllers into a unified wearable package, laying the groundwork for a commercially viable product.
“When the shoe is zipped up, you can’t see a single piece of evidence that our team had ever worked on it; and this was absolutely the goal,” explains Jenkins.
“Inside the tongue, however, is a very powerful yet efficient Arduino Microcontroller that connects to robust, paper-thin pressure sensors placed under the insole using conductive thread. By sensing user input through kicks and taps, reasoning with the inputs to identify control signals, and communicating wirelessly with any Bluetooth-enabled music production software, the shoe enables anyone, from enthusiasts to professionals, to make and control music with their own movement.”
The result is the Neely 33 Sound Shoe, a first-of-its-kind prototype whose novelty is highlighted by its compactness and low power consumption.
According to Neely, “It was a joy to collaborate with a team that not only comprehended but celebrated the unique fusion that makes this project truly special. Together, we not only brought into the world a fully functional and sleek prototype that meets the highest engineering standards, but nurtured a creation that resonates with the wearer's personal rhythms—a revolutionary instrument for self-expression through movement and sound. This project is a testament to the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and understanding, where each element finds its place in the beautiful crossover of creativity and innovation.”