Traditionally, concepts have been built to show off new automotive design, styling and mechanical technology that may or may not find its way into actual production vehicles. Increasingly, the auto world is seeing concepts with slightly different goals: displaying new entertainment, information and safety technology that will one day change the way we drive.

We need not look further than the recent Geneva Motor Show for evidence. BMW introduced the Vision ConnectedDrive concept at the show. While the concept was developed in part to show new design language that will make it into BMW's line, the bigger story was the conceptual technology inside.

Sure, it's a stunner to look at, but the Vision ConnectedDrive is a brain first, a pretty face second. The most intriguing aspect of this car isn't its ultra-low windshield or long, bold hood--and it's certainly not the powertrain, which BMW didn't even specify for the show. Instead, the star of the show is the next-generation infotainment system that connects the driver to his surroundings in a more complete way.

Using a unique, three-dimensional heads-up display, the system feeds road conditions, directions and other essential information to the driver. The information is displayed using a ghosting effect that lets the driver see the most important information on top, with less important but still relevant information underneath.

The infotainment system also delivers information to the passenger. With his own heads-up display, the passenger can scan information and pass it along to the driver as he sees fit. The passenger will also get less essential information, such as descriptions of local points of interest like museums, restaurants and theaters.

Using a series of sensors, the Vision ConnectedDrive is designed to keep both passenger and driver safer on the road. It can also communicate with other vehicles toward preventing collisions.

Expert predictions indicate that we're likely to see an increasing number of concept cars like the VCD, concepts that focus more on advanced electronics and technology and less on traditional elements of automotive design.

Thilo Koslowski, vice president of automotive research at Gartner, Inc., summed up one way in which cars will utilize new technologies in a discussion with Fox News: "Cars are becoming smarter and communicating intelligently with the outside world. Cars will become the ultimate mobile device. And even more so because they truly are mobile. Making information more accessible to the driver has become a new automotive focus."

Koslowski predicts that within 10 years, cars will not only communicate for safety purposes, but also for information and entertainment, "crowd sourcing" tidbits like the best restaurants in the area or the best route to take. With the help of a pre-programmed credit card information, cars will even be able to purchase things like movie or concert tickets, meaning all you'll have to do is show up at the front door.

Looking further into the future, cars will offer even more technology. A recent Detroit News article outlined some ways in which cars will use over-the-air updates, like those used to update mobile phone operating systems, to adjust everything from navigation system software to brake settings. Dave Evans, a Cisco employee who's tasked with looking into a proverbial crystal ball and predicting what types of technologies will exist in 20 to 50 years, even believes that cars will one day be able to change their shapes and colors using advanced computer models.

Before any of this technology ever makes it to market, we'll be seeing it in concept form on the auto-show circuit. 

[Fox News, Detroit News]