LAS VEGAS – Once again one of the hottest areas of the Consumer Electronics Show is dedicated to auto tech, which this year claims 25% more convention center floor space over 2015.

Our first pass through the densely packed show floor – home to nine automakers and 115 suppliers – reveals technology that ranges from incremental upgrades to existing models to futuristic demos that sketch out the transportation world we will soon inhabit. Among the highlights so far:

– The Mercedes-Benz area was dominated by a sculpture of vehicle dubbed the Concept IAA, which boils down to being a rolling aerodynamic exercise. But one aspect of its tech is very much 2016, the glowing dash. Coming to the newly revamped E-Class sedan this year, the cockpit boasts two separate screens that are actually just one long HD-quality monitor.

The left half of this long screen serves the driver, the right half is geared toward driver and passenger. Both displays are highly customizable, which is a growing trend in automobiles today – you can choose to show just old-fashioned auto and engine speed gauges, or a combination of gauges and road map.

But real trick is in the steering wheel. Mercedes engineers have managed to place two small square touch-pads that fall conveniently under each thumb. Flick the left one and you can scroll through a number of options for the dashboard screen. Flick the right one and the menu changes for the central screen. And they work with gloves on because the sensor is optical. The Touch Pad feature is expected to make its way to every Mercedes model as each one undergoes a model change.

– As much as most alt-fuel talk still centers on electric cars, Toyota showed off a few concept machines anchored to its dedication to hydrogen power. The FCV Plus is a boxy people-mover that is able to share its energy with a companion machine dubbed the FV2, which looks like a motorcycle sidecar from the 22nd century.

A few paces away, a crowd was gathered in front of what turned out to be small car models that were driving themselves around a fake cityscape. Toyota announced at CES that it was ramping up its Toyota Research Institute efforts to develop artificial intelligence that can help cars communicate with each other without human interaction.

The Japanese company will dedicated $1 billion over the coming years to the project with it is undertaking in connection with both Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ford‘s pavilion initially screamed pure testosterone, as the focal point was a gleaming Ford GT race car, which claims the title of official 2016 CES vehicle. While the tech in that lean machine focuses largely on its EcoBoost engine and slippery aerodynamics, the real news was being made by an admittedly dowdy cousin a few feet away.

The white Ford Fusion Hybrid had drawn a crowd nonetheless, largely due to the spinning Lidar (laser radar) sensors on its roof. Ford announced that it would be tripling the number of autonomous cars – to 30 – that it will be testing on Michigan, Arizona and California roads in 2016, as it expands its quest for a fully self-driving production car.

But the newest models won’t feature those ungainly Lidar knobs, as Velodyne has managed to shrink those key autonomous-car components to the size of a hockey puck, which will be hidden discreetly inside sideview mirrors.

Stay with USA TODAY tech reporter @marcodellacava for more auto tech news from CES.

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