Making Sense of Making Sense - Exploring users’ understanding of automated vehicles during use

Abstract: Automation has for a long time been embraced by the vehicle industry and in recent years, the amount and sophistication of automation in vehicles have rapidly increased, creating more advanced automated vehicle (AV) systems. The complexity of AVs does not only pose a technical challenge, but the entry of automation into vehicles also creates new dynamics in the human-vehicle interaction, that puts new demands on the user. Previous research has identified the importance of user understanding of Automated Vehicles, as this affects usage directly as well as indirectly by impacting acceptance. In this thesis, a design approach has been chosen that uses a product semantic framework as the basis for addressing the issue of user understanding with the aim of exploring how users make sense of the AV. The research presented is based on data from three quasi-experimental study, conducted with users of a (i) seemingly fully automated vehicle, (ii) vehicle with two different levels of automation, and (iii) an advanced driver assistance system for docking buses. The findings show that use of the AVs gave rise to several levels of meaning, based on two different processes. The main one was an intermeaning process, where integration of the participants’ conceptual models, artefactual signifiers, and situational signifiers in a context developed meaning. However, an intrameaning process was also evident, where meanings themselves developed new meanings. The findings also show that the usage of the AV itself is an integral part of the process of making sense, where both processes affect how the system is used and the usage triggers new meaning to arise. This thesis presents a model based on the findings, describing four important factors: the user’s conceptual model, the signifiers, the meanings that arise during use of the AV, and the context in which it is used. The model illustrates the complex interplay between these four components and can be used to better understand and investigate how users make sense of AVs to aid the design and development of AVs. The thesis also contributes to the field of product semantics through the practical application of product semantic theories, in addition to providing further insight into how users develop meaning and make sense of artefacts, by describing the processes and components which seem to be the foundation when making sense of artefacts. Having said that, further studies need to explore in greater detail the dynamics of the process of making sense, how meaning changes during a prolonged usage, and how the tentative model could be advanced to be able to be used in the AV development and evaluation processes.

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