The capability to learn from experience is a key property for autonomous cognitive systems working in realistic settings. To this end, this paper presents an SVM-based algorithm, capable of learning model representations incrementally while keeping under control memory requirements. We combine an incremental extension of SVMs with a method reducing the number of support vectors needed to build the decision function without any loss in performance introducing a parameter which permits a user-set trade-off between performance and memory. The resulting algorithm is able to achieve the same recognition results as the original incremental method while reducing the memory growth. Our method is especially suited to work for autonomous systems in realistic settings. We present experiments on two common scenarios in this domain: adaptation in presence of dynamic changes and transfer of knowledge between two different autonomous agents, focusing in both cases on the problem of visual place recognition applied to mobile robot topological localization. Experiments in both scenarios clearly show the power of our approach.