Private pilots and their passengers may be safer because a Waltham high-technology firm has developed a ''talking computer'' to provide quicker access to weather forecasts.
Input Output Computer Services (IOCS) recently signed a $20 million contract with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to put its concept into practice.
''Our new contract proves that a black-owned high-technology company can develop a fresh idea and sell it unsolicited to the federal government,'' says Thomas A. Farrington, president and founder of IOCS. ''We have worked progressively on this idea for eight years.''
Called Interim Voice Response System (IVRS), the project provides general-aviation pilots with direct access to pre-flight weather information through conventional touch-tone telephones.
Input Output will install and lease the IVRS to the FAA through Sept. 30, 1988. At that time, the FAA is scheduled to complete its full Flight Service Automation System as a permanent replacement for the interim program. Through the IOCS system of talking computers, pilots may learn weather conditions by using a special code punched into a telephone keyboard. Federal meteorologists will feed the most recent weather information into the computer.
''This is another step in our National Airspace System plan to modernize and further automate the air traffic control and navigation system,'' said Elizabeth H. Dole, US secretary of transportation, as she and Farrington signed the contract at the White House. ''It will make available on a national basis a quick and easy way for pilots to get the weather information they need for a safe flight.''
As a minority firm, IOCS is providing the voice computer system under an affirmative-action program that sets aside federal contracts for nonwhite companies. However, Farrington says, IOCS won the award on the basis of its own original research and design of the program.
''This (contract) is no surprise to us,'' he says. ''We're in the forefront of technology in two areas - voice-response systems and (micro)chips. We are marketing both. We are the only New England small business to evolve into the forefront of two technological areas.''
IOCS will develop, integrate, and deploy the ''weather voice,'' as the system is called, throughout the nation. It will include 16 remote subsystems. The interim program will service 4,500 flight service station specialists (formerly call traffic controllers) during the next five years.
Since IOCS was founded in 1969, it has expanded into a corporation that employs 300 people and operates branch and field offices in 12 cities, including Washington and Newport, R.I.
''My philosophy is to operate IOCS as a profitable business enterprise and at the same time to work with employees as a family operation,'' Farrington says. ''We hire people without regard to race. We run a winning team.''
Finding qualified personnel is the duty of Isaac Crawford, IOCS human resources administrator. He often visits job fairs such as the recent Career Expo in Boston, cosponsored by several colleges in the metropolitan area to help minority students and women get jobs after graduation.
''It's very easy to recruit for IOCS,'' he says. ''We try to provide the cutting edge for young people seeking a job in high technology. We push the career-path system, encouraging employees to develop their creative abilities.''
Twice a year, the company honors its high achievers at award ceremonies. Top employees in six different categories receive cash bonuses. IOCS also conducts entrepreneurial workshops for minority people and women.
''As a small firm, we don't find it easy to keep promising employees,'' Farrington says. ''We let them know we are a growth firm and expect to offer them more opportunities in the future.''
''There is no easy way to success,'' he says. ''Although we are getting good government contracts, we have not been able to pierce the private-enterprise market as we should. We are targeting our product to private firms. We work to be the best. Our cost? Commitment in time and energy.''