Demystifying the Black Box - Exploring How Users Make Sense of Fully Automated Vehicles
Licentiate thesis, 2020

Vehicles are becoming increasingly automated. Already today vehicles are able to take over and assist the human driver in certain driving tasks, and the scope of technical possibilities is rapidly expanding. However, for the proliferation of AVs to occur, there are several challenges that must first be overcome. These challenges are not only structural, including regulations and technological development, but also user-related, such as the adoption of and willingness of users to use the system. Previous research has identified the importance of user understanding of Automated Vehicles (AVs), 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 a quasi-experimental study, conducted using a seemingly fully automated (WOz) vehicle on a test course where participants’ understanding was investigated both during and after the test runs.

The findings show that use of the AV gave rise to several levels of meaning, based on two different processes. The main one was an external process, where integration of the participants’ conceptual models of human drivers and AVs, artefactual signifiers, and situational signifiers in a context developed meaning. However, an internal process was also evident, where meanings themselves developed new meanings. This thesis presents a tentative model based on the findings, describing three important components: the user’s conceptual model, the signifiers, and the meanings that arise during usage of the AV. The model illustrates the complex interplay between these three 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, the process of making sense in partially automated vehicles, and how meaning changes during a prolonged usage.

Automated vehicles

Driving Automation


Conceptual model

Make sense

Product semantics



Opponent: Dimitrios Gkouskos, School of Information Technology at Halmstad University, Sweden


Mikael Johansson

Chalmers, Industrial and Materials Science, Design and Human Factors

Johansson, M., Ekman, F., Karlsson, M., Strömberg, H., & Bligård, L-O. Talking Automated Vehicles – Investigating Users’ Understanding of an Automated Vehicle During Initial Usage.

Johansson, M., Ekman, F., Strömberg, H., Karlsson, M., & Bligård, L-O. Capable and Considerate: Exploring the Assigned Attributes of an Automated Vehicle.

Users' understanding of autonomou vehicles - DAUT

Chalmers, 2017-07-01 -- 2021-06-30.

Subject Categories

Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics


Human Computer Interaction

Areas of Advance





Opponent: Dimitrios Gkouskos, School of Information Technology at Halmstad University, Sweden

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