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Most video surveillance systems require to manually set a motion detection sensitivity level to generate motion alarms. The performance of motion detection algorithms, embedded in closed circuit television (CCTV) camera and digital video recorder (DVR), usually depends upon the preselected motion sensitivity level, which is expected to work in all environmental conditions. Due to the preselected sensitivity level, false alarms and detection failures usually exist in video surveillance systems. The proposed motion detection model based upon variational energy provides a robust detection method at various illumination changes and noise levels of image sequences without tuning any parameter manually. We analyze the structure mathematically and demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed model with numerous experiments in various environmental conditions. Due to the compact structure and efficiency of the proposed model, it could be implemented in a small embedded system.