I'm currently a second-year PhD student, in computer engineering. My research area is in computer graphics and virtual reality.
I currently don't have a specific goal or problem to solve, except generally to improve the state of the art in some regard. (i.e. develop a method/algorithm that gives better visual quality output than others described in the literature). According to my supervisor I'm supposed to find during my work a more concrete path to follow (like an existing method, and an approach on how to improve it).
So far I have mainly been doing programming/software development work, and developing a C++ framework for flow based programming. My question is if such a software development project can qualify as a PhD topic. There are plenty of complex problems to solve, involving time synchronization, guaranteeing that the system is lock-free, scheduling, etc. Here there is a clear goal: The user defines a graph for the data flow with various attributes (time windows, parallel execution, ...), and the framework does the necessary transformations, etc. to be able to execute it.
However it seems more like an open-source programming project than like a research work. I'm basically choosing for myself which features I'm adding to it, and how to implement them. Most of the time is spent programming and refactoring code.