© 2020 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How This Father-And-Son Team Invented St. Louis' Latest Smart Technology

 Downtown STL is in the process of upgrading the street lights throughout 360 square blocks in downtown St. Louis.
Downtown STL
Downtown STL is in the process of upgrading streetlights throughout 360 square blocks downtown.

The streets of downtown St. Louis are looking brighter — and more energy efficient — thanks to technology developed by Hazelwood-based Labyrinth Technologies. The local company developed a custom lighting solution as part of a $4 million Downtown STL Inc. project to brand downtown and improve public safety. 

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske learned more about Downtown STL’s process of upgrading the streetlights throughout 360 square blocks. Once completed, the project will have made St. Louis one of the largest smart cities in the U.S., second only to San Diego, according to Downtown STL.

Joining the discussion were Downtown STL CEO Missy Kelley and the father-and-son team that helped develop the smart technology: Ted Stegeman, CEO of Labyrinth Technologies, and his 23-year-old son, John, the company’s chief technology officer. 

Downtown STL CEO Missy Kelley joined Friday's talk show to discuss the new city lights with smart technology.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The initiative includes the installation of customizable LED lights and more than 2,300 curved, colorful light strips with "smart technology,” which can be programmed to look like a rainbow, a waterfall, a lava flow, an American flag, or blue and gold for the Blues hockey team. The light-emitting diodes are also more energy efficient compared to the current sodium-halogen lights. 

Mounted to the overall lighting fixture is a device that gives off a wireless signal, which is what allows those two pieces to respond to the actions the city assigns to it. 

Eventually, the system will be capable of added features such as cameras, gunshot detectors, weather sensors and pedestrian counters. And, if a bulb goes out, the city will instantly know via its mesh network grid. The system of different sensors that collect data is referred to as the Internet of Things. 

A robotics team initially influenced the infrastructure for the invention of the light strips. John Stegeman started a FIRST (for inspiration and recognition of science and technology) tech challenge team during his time at John Burroughs School. He honed his technology skills and eventually worked on a project at the St. Louis Science Center. There, he worked on a NASA exhibit, building and designing Mars rovers — all before the age of 18.  

John (at left) and Ted Stegeman of Labyrinth Technologies helped implement the smart technology behind the new city lights in downtown St. Louis.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

“That built a lot of the core technology and background more than anything for how [the smart city lights] would work, because that particular exhibit involves wireless communication, long-distance data stuff and communicating between computers,” he said. 

“So when I was asked by my dad [how to make the lights work], because he needed someone to help figure out this project, [I used] some of the information from there to help build this technology.”

Ted Stegeman added: “We're sort of a techie family. So we grew up building things and doing those kind of experiences, and the kids just sort of followed right along with them."

Listen to the full conversation to learn more about what the smart lights are capable of, how they aim to improve public safety in the city and plans for spreading this technology elsewhere: 

Clarification: This story been updated to say that the lighting strips and LED lights are both customized for downtown St. Louis and are connected via a wireless system.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Stay Connected
Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.