Towards a Pluralistic Epistemology: Understanding the Future of Human-Technology Interactions in Shipping
Doktorsavhandling, 2019

The rapid advance of technologies is revolutionizing the way people work and transforming society into a digital world. In the shipping domain, many innovative technical systems have been designed and developed in the past decades, aiming to enable the maritime users to achieve the goal of safety, efficiency and effectiveness. The introduction of advanced technologies into workplaces that are intended to aid humans have also created unprecedented challenges. As their workplaces are inundated with new artefacts that cause confusion and information overloading, human users frequently find themselves in a supporting role to serve technology, being responsible for automation issues and blamed for “human errors” that sometimes result in tragic results. Today’s work in shipping is generally getting more distributed, complex and demanding.

These challenges are closely associated with the design and use of technologies. Human-technology interactions in the context of sociotechnical systems has become an important research topic. It explores the relation between humans and machines to illustrate how interface design could address the human limitations, shape social interactions and provide ecological implications. This thesis considers the context of the shipping domain to investigate the impact of innovative technology, design issues and opportunities in various projects that attempt to increase safety or/and efficiency. The exploration and discourse in these applied projects are positioned in sociotechnical systems which include human, technology and organisational constituents. The thesis aims to achieve a deeper understanding of human-technology interactions from psychological, sociological and ecological perspectives, reflecting the ways in which technology interacts with humans. It aims to form a pluralistic epistemology to provide design implications and enlighten knowledge and organisational management within sociotechnical systems.

The results have identified many issues related to situation awareness, attention and automation bias. It suggests the importance of adapting interfaces to the human limitations and accommodating the context change to support decision making. Perspectives of Activity Theory, distributed cognition and situated learning have high reference value in human-computer interaction research, providing insightful understanding about the nature of knowledge and interaction design, particularly how tool mediation could facilitate social interaction. In addition, technology-centric design that only concerns “user-interface” interaction is identified having significant limitations in complex systems. “Human errors” and organisational failures should be perceived via a holistic thinking. The results have presented the importance of adopting pluralistic approaches to understand the sociological factors and the nature of the work that is undergoing transitions along the shipping industry’s ecology.

Overall, the thesis has identified the need to go beyond the pure cognitivist approach to better understand the complexity of human-computer interaction and human factors research, forming a deepened understanding towards an emerging interdisciplinary language of sociotechnical systems. To truly contribute to safety, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability, it is critical to develop a pluralistic epistemology and a comprehensive human-centric vision regarding design and technological innovation in the digital revolution.

Human Factors

Decision Making


Human-Technology Interaction


Human Errors


Sociotechnical System

Human-Computer Interaction


Epistemological Pluralism

Situation Awareness

Situated Learning

Knowledge Management



Distributed Cognition


Activity Theory

Lecture hall Beta, Saga House
Opponent: Professor Wayne J. Albert, University of New Brunswick, Canada


Yemao Man

Chalmers, Mekanik och maritima vetenskaper, Maritima studier, Nautiska Studier

From desk to field - Human factor issues in remote monitoring and controlling of autonomous unmanned vessels

Procedia Manufacturing,; Vol. 3(2015)p. 2674-2681

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Gaps between users and designers: A usability study about a tablet-based application used on ship bridges

Stanton N. (eds) Advances in Human Aspects of Transportation. AHFE 2017. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 597. Springer, Cham,; Vol. 597(2018)p. 213-224

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Maritime Energy Efficiency in a Sociotechnical System: A Collaborative Learning Synergy via Mediating Technologies


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Facing the New Technology Landscape in the Maritime Domain: Knowledge Mobilisation, Networks and Management in Human-Machine Collaboration

Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing,; Vol. 786(2019)p. 231-242

Paper i proceeding

Managing Unruly Technologies in the Engine Control Room: from Problem Patching to an Architectural Thinking and Standardisation

WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs,; Vol. 17(2018)p. 497-519

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

Human factor issues during remote ship monitoring tasks: An ecological lesson for system design in a distributed context

International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics,; Vol. 68(2018)p. 231-244

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

The two key words that may best characterise the ongoing transition in the shipping domain are digitalisation and automation. We hear these concepts and/or utilisations used onboard and onshore everyday: autonomous unmanned ships, mobile IT solutions, cloud computing, big data, block chain applications and energy efficiency monitoring systems, as examples. The rapid advance of technologies is revolutionising today’s shipping industry towards a digital world, where human users frequently find themselves in a supporting role to serve technology, being responsible for automation issues and blamed for “human errors” that sometimes end with tragic outcomes. These challenges are closely associated with human-technology interactions in the context of sociotechnical systems, which have been the focus of the research efforts in this thesis.

This thesis has used various maritime projects to understand the problem of a predominantly technology-centric approach. By considering psychological, sociological and ecological perspectives, this thesis aims to achieve a deeper understanding of human-technology interactions, to explore ways in which humans interact with technology, the impacts of technology on human performance and opportunities for future design related research in shipping. Perceiving human-technology interactions through different lenses may create an important foundation to allow reflecting and synthesising links between required disciplines in pursuit of a coherent whole. Through these perspectives, it aims to advocate a pluralistic epistemology that utilises theoretical contributions to integrate existing research silos in human factors, also also provide insights into future design and development practices in shipping using a human-centric approach.

Efficient, Safe and Sustainable Traffic at Sea (EfficienSea) 2

Europeiska kommissionen (EU), 2015-05-01 -- 2018-05-01.

Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN)

Europeiska kommissionen (EU), 2012-09-01 -- 2015-08-31.

GOTRIS II - ITS for effiecient inland waterway transportation

VINNOVA, 2012-08-01 -- 2014-12-31.


Sociologi (exklusive socialt arbete, socialpsykologi och socialantropologi)

Transportteknik och logistik


Tillämpad psykologi


Människa-datorinteraktion (interaktionsdesign)

Systemvetenskap, informationssystem och informatik med samhällsvetenskaplig inriktning


Informations- och kommunikationsteknik





Hållbar utveckling



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4607


Chalmers tekniska högskola

Lecture hall Beta, Saga House

Opponent: Professor Wayne J. Albert, University of New Brunswick, Canada

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